by Annette Campbell
Running between the raindrops, I dashed through a cold and dreary evening. Shaking the rain off my coat, I headed up the stairs at the MacKenzie Theatre, my mind filled with questions and facts to check. Half-way up the stairs, I stopped, listened, and all of the tensions of the day melted away as I heard a collection of children's voices sweetly singing "O Holy Night." It was then that I remembered a simple truth: you can actually hear the spirit of Christmas in the sound of a children's choir.
Don Fraser was putting the chorus through its paces, getting ready for the Confederation Centre's annual Sing Noel concert. They started practicing this material in early October and now the December 17 concert date is fast approaching. After several minutes of polishing a song or two, Don dismissed the choir and sat down with me for a chat.
The Children's Chorus has a proud and lengthy history. Beginning in 1970 as a Boys' Choir, it has grown through the years to its present format-60 boys and girls from the ages of 8 to 16. "It is almost like a small conservatory," explains Fraser, "we have more rehearsal time than a school choir would have, so we can do repertoire that most kids would not see until university." The concert program bears him out. After several traditional, "audience sing-along" carols, the choir will tackle challenging arrangements of English, French and German songs, including "Coventry Carol," "Ding, Dong, Merrily on High," and "In Dulci Jubilo." The Confederation Centre's mandate to promote Canadian art is also upheld as pieces arranged by Keith Bissell and Healy Willan figure prominently in the program. There is definitely something here for everyone, from the most knowledgeable choral enthusiast to the weary Christmas shopper.
Not surprisingly, this is just the beginning of a busy season for the Chorus. As many of the excited choristers informed me, the choir is going "on tour" in late April to Washington D.C. The trip promises to be an inspiring one; a major highlight will be a performance at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, one of the largest cathedrals in North America and the site of JFK's funeral. "It's definitely the biggest building I've ever performed in," confides Fraser, "It should be a wonderful experience."
Wanting to get another perspective, I spoke with several choir members. A lively bunch, they all agreed that it was a love for singing that drew them to the group. "That, plus the trips," one confessed. "Why should people come to your concert?" I slyly asked them. After the inevitable "because we're great!" answer, Crystal Robertson, a student from Colonel Grey High School, spoke up: "I think it's good for people to see what kids our age can do. We're the biggest children's chorus on the Island and it's a great chance for people to see us learning in progress." So when the hustle of the season takes over your life, come to the Confederation Centre at 3 pm on December 17 and let these burgeoning singers remind you what Christmas is all about.
Photo:The Confederation Centre Children's Chorus prepares for their annual Sing Noel concert under the direction of Don Fraser